Princess Fawzia Fuad was the eldest daughter of Fuad I, Sultan of Egypt and Sudan and his second wife, Nazli Sabri. Born on November 5, 1921 at Ras El Tin Palace in Alexandria, she was the second child of Faud I and had five siblings, one of whom was from her father’s first marriage.
Fawzia’s father, Faud I, was the seventh son of Isma'il Pasha - also known as Ismail the Magnificent - the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879. Ismail was well-known for his successful efforts at modernizing these two countries but his administration resulted in serious debt for the Khedivate, which ultimately resulted in the British pushing him in exile. Though he had numerous wives and children, his son Faud was born to one of his many concubines. Faud’s mother, Feriyal Kadinefendi, was a Frenchwoman of noble birth who was captured and sold into slavery in Egypt. When she entered Ismail’s harem in 1867, he was captivated by her beauty and grace, despite the fact that she was fifteen years his junior. He married her that same year and another year after that, she gave birth to Faud in Cairo.
When Egypt was created a sultanate in 1914 and named a protectorate of Britain in 1915, the British overthrew Abbas II in favor of his pro-British uncle, Hussein Kamel. Kamel reigned as Sultan of Egypt and Sudan for three years until his death, after which his only son refused the British-established throne. Thus, the crown passed to Kamel’s nephew, the forty-nine year old Faud I, who changed his title of “sultan” to “king” in 1922.
Faud had been unhappily married to his cousin, Princess Shivakiar Ibrahim for two years until they finally divorced in 1898. Their marriage was anything but serene, as during a fight with her brother, Faud was shot in the throat but survived. Their marriage did produce two children, however, a son who died in infancy and a daughter named Fawkia.
|Fawzia’s parents - King Faud I of Egypt and Nazli Sabri|
Faud’s second marriage was just as tempestuous as his first. Nazli wasn’t allowed to moved into Kobbeh Palace, the royal residence, until she gave birth to a son in 1920. Although she was the queen consort, Faud didn’t allow her to venture outside the palace except to go to opera performances, flower shows, and other ladies-only societal occasions. As a highly educated and cultured woman, Nazli struggled to conform to this restrictive lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, the couple fought frequently, which often resulted in Faud hitting his wife in anger and locking her in her room for weeks. It is said that on one occasion, she tried to take her own life by overdosing on aspirin pills.
Fuad and Nazli had five children together. After the birth of their first child and only son, the future Farouk I in early 1920, they had four daughters. Fawzia was their second child and eldest daughter, followed by Faiza in 1923, Faika in 1926, and Fathia in 1930. All of his daughters’ names began with the letter “F” as a tribute to Fuad’s beloved mother, who died in 1902.
|Fawzia as a young girl|
When Fawzia was seventeen years-old, an ambassador from Iran was sent to Cairo to propose the idea of a marriage between Fawzia and the Crown Prince of Iran - Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, desired a union between Egypt and Iran’s royal families, as Fawzia’s old royal blood would add luster to Iran’s recently established monarchy. The match was agreed to by Fawzia’s older brother, Farouk I, who had succeeded to the throne upon his father’s death in 1936. For Farouk, the marriage asserted a constitutional monarch’s power in a region lorded over by the British while for the Iranian Shah, once just a humble soldier, the century-old Egyptian royal family conferred aristocratic legitimacy on his own. The betrothal was also significant in that it united a Sunni royal - Fawzia - with a Shia royal - Mohammad Reza. However, the Crown Prince himself remained unaware of the martial negotiations and had not even seen a picture of his bride by the time the engagement was publicly announced in May of 1938.
|Fawzia and her husband, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran|
The wedding rites were conducted twice - first in Cairo on March 15, 1939, according to Sunni custom, and later in Tehran according to Shi’ite custom. Fawzia was just seventeen at the time while Mohammad (who she had met only once before the wedding) was nineteen. At the wedding in Cairo, guests received bonbon boxes made of gold and precious stones, flower-filled floats paraded down the wide avenues, and fireworks were set off over the Nile. The day after the wedding in Cairo, the newlyweds flew to Tehran to conduct the Shi’ite ceremony, which included seven days of feasting, prisoners being released from jail, and food and money being handed out to the poor. Because Iranian law required that only an Iranian could become queen, a hasty bill was passed bestowing on Fawzia “the quality of Persianness.”
|Crown Prince and Princess Fawzia and Mohammad Reza |
with their only child, Princess Shahnaz
Unfortunately, by the time Mohammad Reza took the throne in late 1941 after an Anglo-Soviet invasion during World War II forced the abdication of his father, the marriage began to fall apart. Mohammad was openly unfaithful and was often seen driving around Tehran in one of his expensive cars with his girlfriends. Also, his dominating and extremely possessive mother saw Fawzia as a rival to her son’s love and took to humiliating her, while Mohammad sided with her all the while. Relations with her sisters-in-law were just as tense and she had no one to talk to, as her retinue of Egyptian servants was dismissed and she never succeeded at learning to speak Persian. To fend off boredom, she spent much of her time in bed and playing cards. A naturally shy and quiet woman, Fawzia described her marriage as miserable, feeling very much unwanted and unloved by her husband’s family, and longed to go back to Egypt. She refused to attend meetings of the charitable organizations and foundations of which she was nominal head as the Iranian queen and made it increasingly obvious her contempt for Iran and anything Iranian. She even began to show little interest in her own daughter and stopped sharing a room with her husband.
|Fawzia Faud and her daughter, Princess Shahnaz|
Coincidentally, her brother had divorced his own wife, Farida, the same month Fawzia’s divorce was finalized and since their mother - the adventurous Queen Nazli - had fought with her son and went to live in America in 1946, Fawzia was now the senior lady in Egypt. She presided over the elaborate court receptions for ladies in Cairo and Alexandria and while she was not the most imaginative of hosts, she enjoyed the role.
|Fawzia Faud of Egypt, Queen of Iran|
By the time of Fawzia’s second marriage, the Egyptian population, the majority of which were poor and disenfranchised, had turned against the royal family. King Farouk was seen as a corrupt and ineffectual playboy who was beholden to an occupying foreign power - the British. In 1952, a military coup led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser was widely heralded by the Egyptians and much of the world as an act of emancipation. The overthrown Farouk was forced to flee the country and lived in Rome for the rest of his life. Unlike most of her family, Fawzia remained in Egypt with her husband and children in a villa in Alexandria, where she lived a quiet, almost anonymous life in reduced circumstances, melting into the background of a rapidly growing city. Egypt would remain unstable politically for decades - going from monarchy to military coup, from socialism to oligarchy, to dictatorship and revolution again.
|Fawzia Faud and her second husband, Ismail Chirine, with their|
|Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi of Iran|
Fawzia’s daughter from her second marriage, Nadia Chirine, married twice and had two daughters, one with her first husband and one with her second - Sinai and Fawzia respectively. She died in 2009 at the age of fifty-eight. Nadia’s brother, Hussein Chirine, never married or had children and died in 2016 at the age of sixty-one. Ismail Chirine, Fawzia’s second husband, died in 1994 at the age of seventy-four. Fawzia survived him by nineteen years before her own death on July 2, 2013 at the age of ninety-one in Alexandria. She was buried in Cairo alongside Ismail.